From the time we’re born, we start communicating to get our needs met. As we grow, our communication becomes more sophisticated and complex. Communicating effectively, however, is a lot more complicated than simply speaking. Effective communication seeks to convey a message in a way that it is understood as intended. Effective communication is a skill, and one that can be learned with a little practice.
The more of a connection you can build with another person, the more receptive they will be to your message, and the more likely they will be to respond favorably. Show an interest in their family, projects they are involved in, or topics of interest to them. To be even more effective, make an effort to continually build relationships.
Excellent communicators listen more than they talk, asking open-ended questions as needed to draw others out. Listening can help you understand others and avoid misunderstandings. Listening actively means more than just hearing what is said, it means listening to understand. That may mean asking clarifying questions, or paying attention to what isn’t said.
Keep your goal in mind
What do you hope to achieve in this interaction? Your communication method is going to depend a great deal on your goal for the interaction. Think about whether you’re trying to solve a problem, gain cooperation, convey information, give advice, or something else.
Communication is much more than just the words that are said. Tone of voice, posture, gestures, expressions, eye contact, and much more can add to or detract from the intended message. Pay attention to nonverbal cues, both yours and those of others. At the same time, don’t put too much stock into any one signal. Crossed arms, for example, may mean a person is feeling defensive. It could also mean the person is cold.
Feedback should go both ways. Rephrase what you’re hearing to ensure you are understanding, and ask for thoughts, opinions, or other input from others. This doesn’t just help prevent misunderstanding, it shows that you value them and what they have to say.
You don’t have to agree with another person’s position to empathize and validate their feelings. A simple “I can understand how that must have been frustrating” goes a long way to helping people feel like you’re hearing them, and feeling heard can work wonders on receptivity.
Manage your emotions
You always have a choice in how you react to others. In situations where your instinct is to become defensive, you have a choice to remain neutral. Defensiveness only leads to arguing and further misunderstanding.
If there are actions that need to be taken, be sure to clarify responsibility and deadlines. In some situations, it may be helpful to follow up with a letter or email outlining all the details of what was agreed to. You can even outline the email as a thank you note. “Thank you for talking today, I will be making more of an effort to (insert whatever you agreed to) and I’m so appreciative of you trying to (insert whatever they agreed to). Our talk today means a lot to me”.